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The Theories of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers

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Maslow and Rogers come from a school of thought, which is referred to as Humanistic. Such an approach steers away from the idea that man is a robot, who is the total product of outside forces, as the Behaviorist would maintain; or that man simply results from the interaction of primal drives and the demands of community – a belief held by many Freudians.

The Humanistic approach accepts the ‘human qualities’ of the individual; that man is born with an inherent potential for self-actualization. Maslow considers such self-actualization to be the pinnacle of human expression – the final stage of human development. The self-actualized person is ‘wholly and fully human’.

There are several factors which distinguish the Humanistic Approach from other approaches within psychology, including the emphasis on subjective meaning, a rejection of determinism and a concern for positive growth rather than pathology.

The theories of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers both include a much emphasized concept of self actualization and the characteristics which are required in order to achieve it. Their theories in the aspect of self actualization are very similar with only a few slight variances. Both Rogers and Maslow categorize self actualization as the highest goal or driving force of the human needs system.

Carl Rogers was not only one of the founders of the Humanistic Approach, but also arguably the most influential therapist in the 20th century: a number of surveys, including several done after his death, found that more therapists cited Rogers as a major influence on their thinking and clinical practice than any other person in psychology (including Freud).

Like Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow is widely regarded as one of the founders of the Humanistic Approach. While less influential among therapists than Rogers, Maslow became very well known to the, due to his interest in applying psychological principles in business settings. In this regard, his hierarchy of needs has been a basic concept in human resources and organizational behavior for several decades. Maslow and Rogers were acquainted with one another and familiar with each other’s work. Hence, there are many similarities in the work of the two theorists.

Abraham Maslow developed a theory of becoming based on what he called self-actualization theory. It was Maslow’s feeling that psychological research had focused attention primarily on the pathological, neglecting the meaning and constitution of psychological health. The purpose of Maslow’s conceptualization of self-actualization was to illuminate a possible model of psychological health so that clinicians and individuals might appreciate what they were trying to develop in themselves and others. The core schema in Maslow’s conceptualization he called a hierarchy of needs.

According to Maslow, the level of self actualization entails characteristics such as; a more efficient perception of reality, acceptance of self, others, spontaneity, etc. Maslow asserts that this is the highest level in a hierarchy of needs and only when all the level that precede it are in order can a person reach this level.

Carl Rogers was a clinical and educational psychologist. Roger’s theories concern the interpersonal dynamics of learning and therapy. Rogers believed that teachers and clinicians took too much responsibility in their relationship to their students and their patients. Rogers assumed a position of co-equal, mutual development with his patients and his students. He felt that it was important to acknowledge his own search for knowledge and self-understanding. If he was to be fully present as a human being in interaction with someone, he asserted that he had to acknowledge his true self and not play a generalized helping role. In addition, rogers emphasized the fact that all human beings possess an innate tendency to maximize their potential and move towards self actualization.

Rogers characterizes the goal of self actualization or actualizing tendency, as he calls it, as openness to experience, existential living, organismic trusting, experiential freedom, and creativity.

There is a strong consistency between the two sets of characteristics and many of them entail common attributes. Roger’s characteristic of openness to experience, involves an accurate perception of one’s experiences in the world, including one’s feelings and the ability to accept reality. This characteristic is nearly identical to Maslow’s characteristic of an efficient perception of reality which is defined by an accurate perception of what exists rather than a distortion of perception by one’s needs. Similarly, both theories involve creativity and give emphasis to the uniqueness of a person and a sense of individual worth.

In addition, both Maslow and Rogers view society as something that is, not intrinsically evil, but a blockage to individual growth. Society was formed as result of the human need to be social. It later took on a form of its own and began to form standards of its own. Society began to dictate that people conform to the fit a certain image portrayed as desirable by society, thereby lacking in the creative qualities which are of great value to both Maslow and Rogers.

Both Maslow and Rogers asset that it is impossible for one to reach their greatest potential if they conform to society and stifle their unique abilities.

While the Maslow and Rogers have much in common as far as humanistic beliefs, there are differences between the two theories, in their views of human motivation and ambition. Maslow views the aspiration towards self actualization as the highest level of human goal oriented needs. He believes that all the previous levels must be mastered before the desire for self actualization is present.

An additional difference is portrayed in Rogers’ conception of self, which is rather broad. He does describe a variation of self: the “ideal self” which denotes the self-concept the individual would most like to possess but other explicit variations are not offered. Similarly, specific concepts related to identity and identity development are missing, although the self image is certainly revisable and undergoes change over the lifespan. Exactly when the differentiation of phenomenal field into self occurs is also not specified. Rogers concept of self-actualization is specifically related to the self and is thus different from Maslow’s which appears to incorporate both tendencies in one.

Thus Maslow and Rogers embraced self-actualization both as an empirical principle and an ethical idea. Their vision of human nature as intrinsically good became a major theme of the “human potential” movement, but was criticized by some other humanistic psychologists as an inadequate model of the human experience.


Toward a Psychology of Being (1968), Maslow

Motivation and Personality (first edition, 1954, and second edition, 1970), Maslow

The Further Reaches of Human Nature (1971), Maslow

Client-centered Therapy (1951), Rogers

On Becoming a Person (1961), Rogers

A Way of Being (1980), Rogers

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